This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Theatrical Ladies

18 July 2014

It's an old army joke.

"Who was that woman I saw you with last night at the canteen," asked one soldier of another.

"That was no woman," exclaimed the other soldier.   "That was my Feldwebel {Sergeant} !!!"

Maybe it was funnier in the trenches of 1916 when this postcard of José ??? was printed for the Wandertheater of Armee-Abt. A. or the Traveling Theater of Armee-Abteilung A.  also known as the Division Falkenhausen of the German Army. It was named after its general, Ludwig von Falkenhausen, (1844 – 1936), who was in command of the southern part of the Western Front in Alsace-Lorraine and evidently thought soldiers deserved high class entertainment to improve their morale.

I told the story of the Wandertheater back in April 2013, and José ??? was a performer of questionable gender that I spotted in the lineup of the cast and orchestra.

 <<  >>

In this detail of the postcard, she\he stands in the front line and is the only "woman" in the ensemble of music hall players. On the left side with his dog is the comic Paul Pilz whose story I  wrote about in 2012. Clearly Paul and José ??? were headliners and popular enough with the troops to justify printing a promotional postcard for each of them. I feel certain that she\he sang cabaret songs accompanied by the orchestra and no doubt flirted with the manly acrobats and clowns in the group. The Wandertheater seems to have had a mixture of professional civilian  and army musicians that was not unlike the U.S.O. shows that performed for allied troops during the Second World War. Nothing serious, just a good lighthearted fun entertainment.  

The card was sent by Feldpost - soldiers post - from the Gebirgs - Batterie Nr. 14 to Herrn Konrad Linz. There is no date but similar postcards were mailed from 1916 and 1917.

<<<  >>>

There was more musical theater behind the German lines in World War One but German soldiers were not always the intended audience. In this case a musical was put on for French, Belgian, British, and Russian servicemen held in a Kriegsgefangenenlager or Prisoner of War Camp. This photo postcard shows the stage and orchestra at the Königsbrück camp. Five actors appear to be in a French restaurant and three of them are men dressed as women. The orchestra, which seems engrossed in the action, has 10 musicians with flute, clarinet, and violins. The musician on the left has a box shaped violin that was probably made in the camp.

The stage set, though quite small, has table and chairs, fancy drapes, and a painted scene flat. The signs on the left and right – Pièce {Room} and Défense de fumer {No Smoking} help create the illusion of a hotel restaurant. Judging by the makeup on the cook in the center, this was a farce where the two officers complain to the proprietress about the poor food and surly service .

This second photo shows another production in the Königsbrück camp but this one was for Russian prisoners as the postcard caption reads Gefangenenlager Königsbrück Russen Theater. There are 9 musicians in the orchestra with two violins, two guitars, and possibly 5 mandolins. The classic Russian string instrument is the balalaika which has a triangular shape and 4 strings, but the instruments here look like mandolins which have 8 strings and a pear shape body like a lute. The leader stands in the center wearing a white tunic and with his violin resting on his hip.

There is only a single performer on stage, a "woman" who bears a resemblance to José ???. She\he seems about ready to sing as the musicians play. The camera has captured a clear image of the sheet music on the violinist's  stand and it looks quite challenging. The stage set presents a drawing room that is much more elaborate than the French restaurant. The painted proscenium even gives a foreshortened perspective and the furniture is quite elegant. Was it borrowed from the camp commandant's residence?

The postcard was mailed by Feldpost on 21.12.16 or 21 December 1916 to Frau Rosa Ulbricht (?)f Armsdorf. The writer was a German soldier so perhaps he saw this musical. 

This last photo shows another French production from the Königsbrück P.O.W. camp theater where the photographer was closer to the stage. The cast of 11 men includes three dressed in drag as women.  The caption reads La Roulotte {the caravan} — Mlle. Culot. Though I can't be certain, the title may refer to an 1898 French comic operetta entitled Mamzelle Culot written by Maurice T'ar Nemo with music by Ch. Gerin.

The one reference was found on Google Books in the Journal général de l'imprimerie et de la librairie, Issue 87, Parts 1-2, page 456.

The back of this postcard has printed instructions more formal than what I have seen on other P.O.W. cards from 1914-1918. It has the location of Königsbrück (Sachsen) which was a small town in Saxony on the eastern side of Germany. That would explain the presence of Russian soldiers captured on the Eastern Front.

These postcards of captured servicemen indulging in recreation were obviously used to convey the supposed humane conditions of the German P.O.W. camps. They also had a propaganda purpose to convince the enemy to surrender. What soldier would not want to trade the horrors of trench warfare for a chance to put their feet up and enjoy a musical show? In fact there were over 15,000 POWs confined to the camp in Königsbrück, and it was just one of hundreds of camps. Many were harsh labor camps where enlisted men were compelled to join German work details. The millions of allied prisoners were also last on the German government's lists to receive food rations and health services. A POW camp should never be mistaken for a holiday resort.

What intrigues me about these postcards of POW theatrical productions and orchestra concerts is that they offered the men a chance to restore everyone's humanity, both captives and captors alike. The universal cruelty shared by all in the camps was unvaried boredom. Musical theater was a natural creative outlet for men faced with imprisonment for an indefinite period. That they were able to mount such a variety of costumed entertainments is a testimony to the tenacious human desire to tell stories and sing songs.

And as Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein would say 30 years later —
"There Is Nothing Like a Dame"! 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where guys are always in step, even in a tutu.

Kameraden in der Musik

04 July 2014

When four men share the soldier's life they become Karmeraden – Comrades. That bond is no less strong even if they happen to carry trombones instead of rifles. It was surely true of this quartet of hearty German army bandsmen with their arms linked together and trombones at the rest, as these musicians were from one of Kaiser Wilhelm's regimental bands. They stand in a large field that is perhaps a parade ground in some park where they are getting ready to play for a review of the Kaiser's troops and horse guards.

Their instruments are three tenor slide trombones and a bass trombone on the left. A trombone can be just as lethal as a rifle but is less reliable in sharp keys. It also has a tendency to jam in hot weather.

The back of the postcard has a message, presumably from one of the trombonists, that was written with invisible ink and is now faded. I have improved the contrast and above Lieber Freund! – Dear Friend! is a place and a date. I think it reads Charlottenburg which is a famous area of Berlin known for the Charlottenburg Palace of the Hohenzollern royal family, but the date is much less clear – 18.8.11 or 18 August 1911. It may be 1917 instead, but these men seem too cheerful for it to be the third year of the Great War. Was this photo taken on a parade ground near the palace?

In my experience, trombone players tend to be an affable and good humored lot, which I think we can see in the faces of this quartet. So it is not surprising that they would wish to send their picture and message to a fellow bandsman by SoldatenKartn or Soldiers Card. The surprise for me was that it was sent to a player of my instrument – Hornist W. Schmidt of the Pionier Battalion No. 24 in Köln.

Recently I acquired another postcard of one of the Kaiser's bandsmen. He is not Hornist Schmidt but he was a comrade too and a horn player. 

The photographer posed this young soldier in front of a very floral backdrop that undoubtedly was used more for photos of children, grandmothers, and wedding couples. The embossed name is difficult to read but it begins F. Neustettin. Neustettin is a city near the Baltic sea in Pomerania which was once part of East Prussia. Today it is in Poland and is known by the rather inharmonious name of Szczecinek.

On the back is some very stylized handwriting. On the left is the place – Neustettin and a year – 1910, or possibly 1915 or 1916. The postcard does not appear to have been mailed, so the address may be that of the bandsman. I read ?___ Meirich, followed by Musiker which is a bandsman's rank.

The young hornist stands at the ready as if waiting for his cue to begin a solo. He holds a single horn in F with 3 rotary valves. You can compare his instrument to those of the other army horn players in my collection who are from the same era, the Horn Player of West Kent  and the Belgian Horn Player, who used piston valve horns. Someone has penciled in some improvements to the curl in his mustache, and there is a fine reflection in the horn bell that I fancy is an image of the photographer. The horn player's tunic or Waffenrock is subtly different from the uniforms of the four trombonists, but includes the "swallow nest" on the shoulders which was an epaulet worn only by military musicians. Unfortunately the photos' sepia tone prevents us from seeing the colors on the bandsmen's swallow nest, collars, and sleeves which would identify their military units.

This soldier has no instrument but the fringed swallow nests on his tunic show that he too was a member of a Deutsches Kaiserreich regimental band. He has seen service in the war because tucked behind a coat button is the ribbon of the Iron Cross award.

On the back there is writing with a challenging cursive style. It is addressed to Familie P___(?) in possibly Gummersbach(?), which is near Köln. The year however is clearly 1916.

This photograph shows another bandsman of the German Reich who is also without his instrument, but he may not have needed one as I think he was a Militärkapellemeister or bandmaster. In his left hand he holds gloves and a sword hilt. The stripe on his trousers is actually the sword blade. Though many military bandsmen wore a short sword as standard equipment, this one appears to be longer and seems more appropriate for a band leader or officer. On his shoulders are the musician's swallow nests and there are two medals pinned to his chest.


The photographer was Wilm. Köhler of Posen, another city that was once in Prussian and is now in Poland. Today it is called Poznań.

Even without the photographer's address we could still discover where this bandmaster came from by looking closely at his distinctive Picklehaube helmet which he holds in his right hand. The Helmewappen  or helmet plate was a different design for each army regiment of the German Reich. This one is from a regiment in Preußia or Prussia and has the initials F. R. on the eagle's chest, which stands for Friedrich Rex. It matches this helmet found in Colonel J'.s collection, a website that has an extraordinary if not exhausting history on the military uniforms of the German Empire era.

Prussian M95 Pickelhaube

Comrades in arms and in music, these German bandsmen represent a military tradition of music making that vanished after the end of the Great War in 1918. Now all that remains of the German Reich era are the march tunes and the photos of shiny horns and Pickelhauben

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is a Kamerad ready to shake your hand.

Music by the Lake at Glenwood, Minnesota

27 June 2014

It's summertime. The hats are white, the grass is up, and there's no ice on the lake. What could they be watching?

The children watch too, divided into separate clumps of boys and girls.

Some wish that they were on stage too. Then they could wear a different cap.

What has captured everyone's attention? It is a children's band concert with nearly 30 young musicians all dressed in white and wearing sailor hats (with a few adult ringers to play the solos.)

They are playing their music in the band shell by Lake Minnewaska in Glenwood, MN. Civic structures like this were once very common all across America as summertime concerts were regular events for small towns like Glenwood, which had a population of only 2,220 in 1930. Constructed of concrete and brick, the design produced very efficient acoustics that easily projected sound without the need for electronic amplification. This band shell was built in 1925 (we can spot the date marker on the right, partly hidden by the small tree) and it remains a feature of Glenwood's lakeside park where the sound of school bands may still be heard across the lake.  

What makes this a special photo postcard is that Glenwood, MN was the hometown of my grandfather, Wallace Robert Dobbin. He was born there in 1906 but by the late 1920s or 30s when this school band photo was taken, he had made a new life far away in Maryland where he worked at the Union rail station in Washington, D.C.

Of course Glenwood then changed from a hometown to a holiday destination. And in the summer of 1935 he took his wife - my grandmother, and their 5 year old daughter - my mother, for a trip to meet his extended family relations in Glenwood.  I believe it was their first trip to Minnesota and their first look at  Lake Minnewaska.  

They got a little wet.

On the left is my great grandfather William Dobbin, my mother Barbara Dobbin, my grandmother Blanche Dobbin, and my grandfather Wally Dobbin.     It is a moment of pure delight. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's summertime and the living is easy.

The Leader of the Dover Cornet Band

20 June 2014

When did a bowler hat become a musician's fashion accessory? Especially for a musician wearing white tie and tails? Somehow it suits this rakish cornet player with his bristle brush mustache much better than a silk top hat would.

The photographer has posed him standing on fur rugs imitating grass, his arm casually resting on an immense carved newel post, and behind him is an elaborate backdrop of classical architecture, which I think resembles the Massachusetts State House.

Massachusetts State House
Source: Wikipedia

However the photographer was named Drew from Dover, New Hampshire which is on the northern border with Maine just above the seaport of Portsmouth, NH. The photo dates from the mid-1870s to 1880s and has been trimmed to fit into an album. This cornetist might have been relegated to the category of lost musicians except he was included as part of a set of photos.

All identified.

This photo was probably made by the same photographer but the card was trimmed more severely leaving just a bit of the same Gothic letters for Dover in the lower right corner. The cornet player is not wearing white tie and tail coat this time, but he is still very well dressed. The photographer has penciled in some improvement to his mustache and he also sports a small tuff of hair beneath his lower lip, which was a fashion popularized by several of the great cornet virtuosos of this era. The camera has even caught the ornamental engraving on his cornet. (click image to enlarge)

This third photo is a standard portrait and our musician is without his instrument. He appears a bit older and this time he wears a crisp wingtip collar with black tie. The reason we know it is the same man is because someone signed his name on all three photos. The handwriting on the maroon cards is difficult to reproduce, but on this cream color card the name is very clear.

R. L. Reinewald

With such a distinctive name and a location from the other photos, it did not take long for research to reveal that he was as distinguished a musician as he looks. 

His full name was Ralph Livsey Reinewald, and he was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1852. His father was a German immigrant and Ralph grew up in Providence, Rhode Island where he became an accomplished musician on the cornet. In 1870 he joined the US Navy to serve as a marine bandsman aboard the USS Vandalia. This enlistment lasted until 1876, when he took on a new job as bandleader of the Dover, NH Cornet Band. This is probably the time when the first two photos were made.

He played with that band for another 6 years when he was invited to take over the Salem Brass Band which had become famous under its previous bandmaster, Patrick Gilmore, a rival of John Philip Sousa. Gilmore went on to organize the great 22nd Regiment Band of New York, while the Salem Band under Reinewald's direction became known as the 8th Regiment Band of Massachusetts.

In 1900 he accepted an offer to return to the US Navy and become the new bandmaster of the Portsmouth Naval Yard Band. His commission was to train the best band in the US Navy. Reinewald, like many bandmasters of this era, was a self-taught musician who had no academic degree but came up through the ranks based on his reputation as a talented musician and composer.

In the navy, an admiral's flagship would always have a band to provide shipboard entertainment for officers, sailors and guests. Most navy band musicians could play string instruments as well as traditional wind instruments and they were equally adept at playing orchestral, opera, and dance music as military marches.

-- --

US Naval Band, Portsmouth, New Hampshire circa 1908

This image of the Portsmouth Naval Band is undated but was probably made around 1915-25. In the center of the back row, we can recognize that the older man with a cornet and gold stripes on his jacket - the bandmaster, has the same features and nearly the same stance as R. L. Reinewald in his first photo wearing the bowler hat. 

Portsmouth, NH Herald  June 16,1900 

As bandmaster Reinewald had freedom to organize concerts outside of the navy and to take on students. In 1900 he set up Reinwald's Conservatory of Music in Portsmouth and offered lessons on violin, cornet, clarionet, piano, trombone, guitar, mandolin, and cello. He also furnished music for weddings, concerts, balls, parades, etc.  His advertisement which notes Special Attention to Beginners was changed a few months later to read Special Pains Taken with Beginners.  

His concerts which may have included non-navy personnel, were booked into the seaside resorts and clubs along the New Hampshire coast between Maine and Massachusetts. On one engagement for the Portsmouth Athletic Club in September 1900, a local telephone operator arranged to have Reinewald's band concert transmitted over the telephone lines to several telephone exchanges in Massachusetts. This broadcast was only heard by other operators, but they were so impressed with the sound quality and the music that they asked to know the name of the band.

R. L. Reinewald transferred to sea duty in 1908 and made two European tours. After 30 years of exemplary service he retired from the navy but remained in Portsmouth where he ran a music store. The store sold instruments, sheet music, and offered music lessons on all instruments. He advertised regularly in the Portsmouth Herald newspaper  right up to his death in 1934 at the age of 82. In addition to an obituary (which has provided many of the details on his life), the newspaper also ran this special editorial tribute. 

Ralph L. Reinwald 1852-1934
Portsmouth, NH Herald  February 15, 1934 

Bandmaster Reinewald was a celebrated musician for good reason. He was clearly an important teacher for countless navy musicians as well as a honored performer in the Portsmouth area. He represents a tradition of musicianship and professionalism that was part of American military culture at the turn of the 19th century.

 *** ***

When photos like these are sold, they are rarely kept together. Undoubtedly there were other interesting photos in the adjacent pages of the Reinewald photo album from which these were taken, but we will never see them. But even more rare is the following bit of ephemera that came with the photos. It celebrates a special occasion in Ralph Reinewald's life – his marriage. It may even be the reason he once posed for a camera dressed in white tie, tail coat, and bowler hat.

It was 137 years ago on a Tuesday. June 19th, 1877 to be exact, that young Ralph L. Reinewald married Alice Gertrude Adams of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We can only guess how long the ceremony took, but surely the party afterwards lasted much, much longer. He was a sailor after all. There was food, music, drink, more music and speeches. One of Ralph's fellow bandsmen delivered a poem that day. Sadly time has torn his name from the old paper, but his clear fine handwriting gives him a voice to tell the story of a young man about to embark on a voyage of discovery.

Dover N. H.
June 19th 1877

The following lines are respectfully dedicated
to Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Reinewalde by their author
Hen... Ho...pun( ?)

What are the bells all ringing for,
Now what on earth is up?
Has somebody been drinking of
Th' intoxicating cup?
The Turks, have they been beaten? or,
The Dutchmen taken Holland?
Wont some please, to tell me, as
A stranger, here I stand.

T'was thus I spoke, (while on a warm
And sultry day in June
I, in the town of Portsmouth had
Been cast by Dame [Fortune]
But ere an answer I could get
A procession came in view
And who, and what, I then did see
I'll now relate to you.

Now as they near, and nearer came,
A voice both loud and hearty
Cried out, "you now know what it is,
It is a wedding party."

T'was so; and in the mid'st there was,
One by who's timid carriage!
Showed he was going to be tied,
In bonds of holy marriage.

Now when [he] close to me had [come]
In accents loud I bawled
That chap! why dont you know
T'is little Ralph Reinewalde
And sure enough, the man w...
Frightened, and pale, did stan[nd]
Was Ralph, the well known Lea[der of]
The Dover Cornet Band.

For seven long years, he on the br[ink]
Of matrimony stood!
And shivered, and shook first s...
But now At last he said he would.
So now the've both made up thei...
That f... ... will be bet...
To sail the stormy seas of life,
As man and wife, together.

That health, and wealth, and happiness,
In this life they will see!
This is the wish of all the boys,
That play in the D. C. B.
And now to both, I'd like to say,
Ere the pen falls from my hand.
I hope they'll have a little Ralph.
To play in the Dover Band.

Alice and Ralph Reinewald were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary together in 1927. As far as I know they never had a little Ralph, but they did have a daughter, Asa. Did she ever learn to play a musical instrument? With a bandmaster father, what do you think?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone sends congratulations to the happy couple.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP